Brazil conference speaker interview series: Barry Olsen 3

Barry_OlsenMeet the speaker

The second installment of the Brazil conference speaker interview series features the responses of Barry Olsen – an assistant professor of translation and interpretation at the Monterey Institute’s (MIIS) Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education. Barry has worked as a conference interpreter and translator since 1993. He is the founder and co-president of InterpretAmerica, and a member of the Training Committee of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Barry is one of the keynote speakers for the upcoming conference in Recife, Brazil, which will take place on August 24th and 25th.

The interview

MK: How did you get started in translation/interpretation?

BO: I began interpreting at age 19 as a missionary. One day, when the bishop of a congregation found out I was fluent in Spanish, he took me to a booth, sat me down in front of a microphone and headphones and said: “Whatever you hear in English, say it in Spanish.” I fell into it totally by chance, but once I started interpreting, I was hooked. I still get excited every time I put on my headphones to interpret. There is just something about helping people communicate across languages that is tremendously gratifying.

MK: What would you consider the most important challenge facing freelance translators or interpreters today?

BO: We are living and working in a time of unprecedented growth and development. The digital revolution underway is radically changing many aspects of how we live and work, and technology’s influence on what we translators and interpreters do is undeniable. Sadly, its effects are not always positive. So, our most pressing challenge is to find our place in the new digital world—a world where communication is, in most cases, instantaneous and dirt cheap and where there is an explosion in the demand for translation and a pervasive misconception that “THEY have figured out how to have computers translate.”

Translation and interpreting are quintessentially “human” endeavors. While translation technology will continue to evolve and improve, I believe there will always be a need for humans to translate and interpret. The key to making a living as a translator or interpreter will be to identify those areas where human translation will be essential and specialize in them.

MK: What advice would you give freelancers seeking to expand their client base?

BO: Don’t be wedded to the long-standing models of translation and interpreting service delivery as you seek to expand your client base. Sure, you are not going to change the agreements and procedures you have with existing clients, but, put simply, you need to try new things. If there is a new platform for delivering translation or interpreting services, check it out. Experiment. See what works for you. Identify trends and work them to your advantage.

Right now we are seeing an unprecedented number of translation and interpreting startups built by people who are not from our industry. They see the growing need for multilingual communication as well as the amazing opportunities that technology has created to allow people to communicate like never before. There will be new business and service delivery models. There is no way we can avoid that. But we can support those that are good for our industry. What we cannot do is dismiss them all wholesale and hope that things will just continue as they have.

MK: What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in translation or interpretation?

BO: Don’t be fooled into thinking that as a translator or interpreter you are only responsible for knowing your languages. Prosperous linguists will be able to add value above and beyond the foundational services of translation and interpreting. For example, learn basic project management skills. Be familiar with basic HTML and coding. Know how to work with multiple file formats. With the advent of the Internet and the trend toward digital everything, the concept of literacy is expanding beyond just language.

MK: You will be giving a session at the upcoming conference in Recife, Brazil, called “Interpreting and Technology: Learning to Ride the Wave of Digital Disruption.” What can attendees to this session expect to learn?

BO: The whole purpose of my presentation will be to give attendees a big-picture view of how digital technologies are radically changing how people communicate and subsequently, how translators and interpreters will work. Written translation has seen more digitally-driven change than interpreting, but both activities are going through rapid, and sometimes painful, change with the advent of digital communication technologies. My hope is that attendees will walk away with a good understanding of the changes taking place and be motivated to find ways to “ride the wave” of digital disruption.


The event

This is the second installment of a multi-part speaker interview series featuring the presenters of the Fifth conference in Brazil, which will take place on August 24th and 25th in Recife. To register for this exciting event, just visit the conference page:


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